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Panopticon and Its Use as a Cartography of Control

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In a second level of analysis of the depiction of the Divine, a question begins to arise; That of which elements form the presence of a superior entity, with multiple, throughout history, identities, that imposes order in all its forms. Whilst Medieval or Renaissance painters depicted the urban environment and landscape through a state of vision that the mass could not obtain, by creating Gods. This, subsequently formed a recipe of order and control, that could engage the socio political character of the mass to obey. Foucault’s Panopticon is a system that ensures the automatic function of power by creating a state of conscious and permanent visibility. Bentham’s plans, in 1943 where those of buildings that served as centers of control, even if the ones withholding power weren’t in them. The building is a series of holding cells fitting within a semi-circular structure, with a tower in the center, to be occupied by guards. Ideally, the prisoners cannot tell if the tower is occupied at any given time. A social energy is created from this, as one can see across into other cells and sense the imposed presence of authority, each obtaining from the other equal authority over control, each of them though having to give control hierarchically. In this way, power becomes homogenized and more perfect. According to Foucault, this is the ideal circumstances for the power to flourish.

It is clear that the most apparent source of the psychological abnormalities that causes the Panopticon is observation of the Other. But the Panopticon was also a laboratory; it could be used as a machine to carry out experiments, to alter behaviour, to train or “correct” “malfunctioning” individuals. (2)Lisa Dream, A world Transformed, 2015, p19Following the guidelines of Foucault’s work, space is connected with the fundamental exercise of power. Spatiality is a crucial element towards the understanding of the existence of social power relations. However, many researchers have yet neglected the very importance of space in the game of order and control.

According to Soja, the power-knowledge link is acknowledged by every Foucauldian scholar, but for Foucault himself the relationship was embedded in a trialectic of power, knowledge, and space. According to his perception, it is not only the structural elements of space that matter but also the social processes fundamentally connected to this production of space. Soja notes: “For Michel Foucault space is both a way of thinking synchronically rather than diachronically and a means for bringing together architectural or physical space and domains or realms of thought. Thus his notion of spatial practices is a complex constellation of the ideological and the material”.

This spatial formation is translated to the viewers, through a means of representation. For Foucault, the answer to the question risen about the depiction of spatial order is a ‘diagram’, in other words abstract or special use of cartography could form the tool, the means of visual production of those spaces, derived from ideas.

‘Functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, or friction, must be detached from any specific use’. The diagram is no longer an auditory or visual archive but a map, a cartography that is co-existential with the social layer; It is a machine of abstraction. It is defined by its informal functions and matter and in terms of form makes no distinction between content and expression. It could be a tool that through light and silence, creates spatial and social “order”.

“What is a diagram? It is a display of the relations between forces which constitute power in the above conditions: “The panoptic mechanism is not simply a hinge, a point of exchange between a mechanism of power and a function; it is a way of making power relations functions in a function, and of making a function through these power relations. ” We have seen that the Soja, E. W. (1989) Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso. relations between forces, or power relations, were microphysical, strategic, multipunctual and diffuse, that they determined particular features and constituted pure functions. The diagram or abstract machine is the map of relations between forces, a map of destiny, or intensity, which proceeds by primary non-localizable relations and at every moment passes through every point, ‘or rather in every relation from one point to another’”.

By attempting to unveil the way that power motivates order and control, it is crucial to study what Gilles Deleuze has noted, based on Foucault’s work: “Power is less a property than a strategy, and its effects cannot be attributed to an appropriation ‘but to dispositions, maneuvers, tactics, techniques, functionings’; ‘it is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the “privilege”, acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic positions. ’ Power has no essence; it is simply operational. It is not an attribute but a relation: the power-relation is the set of possible relations between forces, which passes through the dominated forces no less than through the dominating, as both these forces constitute unique elements”.

If Power is not an attribute but rather a relation, one can understand the necessity to map this system of relation between its various actors. This abstract map is not a geographical one but rather, a dynamographic one. It does not insist so much on the rationality of production but rather on the potentiality of actualization of power.

At this point, I will try to extract symbolic, diachronic operations in Panopticon’s function, in order to set and test these extractions in today’s orders of discipline. These will serve as a number of consequences deriving from the application of Panopticon’s power; Four elements are crucial to understand the mechanism of discipline over Chaos in a diachronic modelisation of Panopticon: Light, reversibly used for diminishing the visual potentials of the subject, both symbolizing the divine punishment for misbehavior is the first one. Thus there is an inversion of the economy of visual power as posed by Foucault, as something as essential for freedom as light is used reversibly in this case.

Secondly, is the game of visibility, where we can distinguish a Hierarchy, one that also defines the hierarchy of control; Guards may be spectating the subjects but they are also subjects of moral judgement themselves, being, in the same way, constantly checked for their performance. By “looking them in the eye”, the Players run an “interpolative” gaze back along the line of visibility, and use this counter-specularity to effect a judgement that either mocks the seriousness of the surveillance endeavour or subjects the watchers to the accusation of moral and political delinquency (through the performative content of 1984, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, and the like). Geometry, is essential for the effectiveness of the “machine”. Researching on the importance of geometry, one can study architectural plan structures of prisons, of chapels or other type of clinics. The geometry is relatively similar and unveils a certain type of repetitionary Symbolism, as we saw earlier; of a circle or polygonal encrypted shapes, that is surrounded by Divine Power, either this is the Eye of Creator, the All seeing Eye, The surveillance of prisoners or mentally ill, to the visual representation of mass surveillance, in public.

The Funambalist, on Power, 24/3/2012Towards the discovery of the pattern of a new cartography of Panopticon, we must, finally, pay attention to a fourth element, one that derogates from the importance of torture and public punishment according to Foucault; The very praxis of this action was ritualistic; It was crucial for the definition of the mass’s consciousness, towards the orders of discipline. However, the psycho-social outcome was not the restoration of justice, but rather the rechargement of power. We can reinforce this argument by criticizing the importance of mass social presence in public executions, being necessary for the effectiveness of this aggressive action of order, encrypted in the collective memory.

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Panopticon And Its Use As A Cartography Of Control. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from
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